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The recent World Summit for Sustainable Development certainly put Johannesburg on the map! Africa’s richest city has an infra structure and fast pace that mirror its money generating character, but it does however offer more than meets the eye.
Gold reef city, a restored century-old mining village among the towering mine dumps of the south, is a good place to start delving into the gold mining history which gave birth to this massive city. The city centre holds little appeal to visitors and is unsuitable for walkers, although a precinct of old warehouses around the Newtown Cultural Precinct has been developed into an interesting entertainment complex, featuring a potpourie of homespun music.
Shoppers should head to the plush malls in the leafy Northern suburbs, particularly Parktown and Sandton, and the numerous flea markets dotted about the city, especially at Bruma lake.
There are several good museums, plenty of galleries and theatres and endless bars, restaurants and music venues offering international and local food and entertainment, including Melville - a quaint ‘village’ like suburb.
By car you can explore Sophiatown, the Magaliesburg and Sun city, the Lion park and Cradle of Humankind, or take a tour of Soweto.
For a breath of fresh air head to the Zoo (with Military Museum) and Emmerentia dam (with botanical garden).
But the best way to see the sights of the city is by tour (public transport and geographic size aren’t conducive to self-tours), the highlight of which is a visit to the famous working class suburb of Soweto. For a true taste of Africa the 2-hour Lesedi Cultural Experience is not to be missed.
Sophiatown is another suburb with a special place in history.Distinctly old, its heritage sites are linked to its heydays as a multicultural melting point before succumbing to apartheid rezoning.
30 minute out of town is the Lion Park and Witwatersrand National Botanical Gardens. Further a field is the enormous recreation Vaal dam (south), and the lovely Magaliesburg hills en-route to the world famous Sun City entertainment complex with its multiple casinos, water park, world-class golf courses, safari park and the magnificent Palace of the Lost City.
The Cradle of Humankind, is an historically important archeological site and cavern complex, to the northwest, which was recently declared a World Heritage site.
Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital is a 45 minute drive North, distinctly more laidback and pleasant with some notable attractions.
Johannesburg International Airport (formerly Jan Smuts) is Africa’s busiest and is constantly being upgraded. More than 50 airlines touch down here, with numerous connections daily to other major centres such as Cape Town and Durban, as well as regional cities like Harare, Gaberone, Windhoek, Maputo and Mbabane. Many shuttle services depart to various hotels around the city and a bus leaves every 30 minutes for the centre.
Johannesburg’s Park station is the main rail terminus, though it is only the TransKaroo overnight sleeper express to Capetown that appeals to travellers, suburban services are slow and crowded and limited for tourists. The Algoa Express trains to Port Elizabeth depart daily. Adjacent to this is the long-distance bus terminal with regular service to Durban, Cape Town, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and local destinations. Translux and Greyhound are two national lines.
South Africa has a very good road network, with multi-laned highways between many cities. The N1 heads north to Pretoria and onwards to Bietbridge and into Zimbabwe. You can also follow it south to Capetown, though it’s a 12 hour drive (via Bloemfontein) and can be crowded and dangerous during December and April. An alternative, quieter route via Kimberley is preferred by tourists. The N4 heads northwest to Mafikeng and into Botswana and east to Swaziland and Mozambique, and the N2 southeast to Durban. Hire car is the most practical means of getting around.